Demonstrators exterior the Justice Department in Washington DC protest federal executions of demise row inmates on Dec. 10, 2020. Credit – Nicholas Kamm—AFP/Getty Images
At least two federal prisoners scheduled to be executed in President Donald Trump’s last days in workplace have already examined constructive for COVID-19, their attorneys stated Friday, ramping up calls for that their executions be known as off in mild of an outbreak of the virus on federal demise row.
Corey Johnson, 52, convicted in a collection of drug-related killings within the early Nineties, is scheduled to be put to demise on Jan. 14; Dustin Higgs, 48, convicted in a 1996 triple homicide, is about to be executed a day later. If their executions and a 3rd one set for a similar week go ahead, there’ll have already been 13 federal prisoners put to demise since federal executions resumed in July after a 17-year hiatus.
But if attorneys achieve delaying the executions even for a number of days, till after President-elect Joe Biden assumes workplace Jan. 20, it might imply the distinction between life and demise for each males since Biden has pledged to finish use of the federal demise penalty.
The Bureau of Prisons confirmed to TIME that “a number of inmates have tested positive for COVID-19” in latest weeks on the federal jail in Terre Haute, Indiana, and stated many “are asymptomatic or exhibiting mild symptoms.” But attorneys for Johnson and Higgs say the unfold of the coronavirus on the facility, together with an outbreak amongst members of an execution group in November, underscores the hazard of allowing executions that require shut contact and may contain a whole bunch of individuals.
“Not surprisingly, given the growing outbreak on federal death row, Corey Johnson also has now tested positive for COVID-19,” attorneys for Johnson, Donald Salzman and Ronald Tabak, stated in a press release Friday, a day after Higgs’s attorneys discovered of his analysis. “Mr. Johnson’s diagnosis will substantially interfere with his attorneys’ ability to have meaningful contact with him during these critical days before his scheduled execution, and the widespread outbreak on the federal death row only confirms the reckless disregard for the lives and safety of staff, prisoners, and attorneys alike. If the government will not withdraw the execution date, we will ask the courts to intervene.”
Corey Johnson, a federal prisoner on demise row, on the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.Courtesy attorneys for Corey Johnson
The Trump administration has executed 10 folks by deadly injection since July, essentially the most federal executions in a single yr since 1896. Advocates have already argued for months that such executions are COVID-19 tremendous spreader occasions; they sometimes contain a whole bunch of individuals—together with the defendant’s household, the sufferer’s household, spiritual figures, the execution group and the media—touring to the federal jail in Terre Haute, witnessing the execution and heading house.
After witnessing Orlando Cordia Hall’s execution on Nov. 19, his religious advisor, Yusuf Ahmed Nur, examined constructive for COVID-19. In response to a lawsuit, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) lately acknowledged that eight members of Hall’s roughly 40-person execution group examined constructive for COVID-19 shortly afterward. BOP additionally stated not less than two execution group members eliminated their masks whereas within the execution chamber with Hall and Nur, in response to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Dustin Higgs, who’s scheduled to be executed on Jan. 15, 2020, is proven contained in the federal jail in Terre Haute, Ind.Courtesy attorneys for Dustin Higgs
“They were just bringing in hundreds of people from outside the prison,” Higgs’s lawyer, Shawn Nolan, tells TIME. “It’s obvious that this [outbreak was] going to happen. And now our client has tested positive and is sick. They should not continue with this.” In a press release a day earlier, upon studying that Higgs was contaminated, Nolan stated: “This is surely the result of the super spreader executions that the government has rushed to undertake in the heart of a global pandemic.”
When requested for remark, the Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed to TIME that inmates on federal demise row, referred to as the Special Confinement Unit (SCU), have already examined constructive for COVID-19 however declined to supply additional data, citing “pending litigation and privacy interests.” The BOP additionally stated an worker within the SCU has examined constructive however had no contact with the executions in November and December. The assertion stated inmates who examined constructive for COVID-19 or who’re symptomatic are being positioned in isolation.
The jail in Terre Haute, the place all of the federal executions happen, has additionally skilled an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, and Nolan alleges that the jail’s COVID-19 numbers have already “spiked enormously” within the weeks following the latest executions. Earlier this week, a decide dismissed a declare from Higgs’s authorized group that argued executing Higgs amid the COVID-19 pandemic can be unconstitutional. Nolan tells TIME they plan to resume that declare since Higgs himself has now examined constructive. Johnson’s attorneys have already stated he’s not eligible for the demise penalty due to an mental incapacity.